Mid-band spectrum shortages in the US was the main thrust of the 5G Americas sponsors. The idea is that the rest of the world has lots of mid-band spectrum available and service providers in countries that could be considered economic leaders (Japan, Korea, China, Western European countries) have plenty of available mid-band spectrum that is ideal for 5G, while the US does not. This group at 5G Americas, which includes service providers, vendors and standards bodies, is saying that US leadership in cellular infrastructure and the entire app economy that relies upon it may be at risk as 5G get deployed.
Other topics discussed: AT&T is currently out for bid on its 5GC infrastructure, and this caused some interesting posturing by the vendor attendees (like Ericsson, Nokia, Cisco, Mavenir) at this conference, with each trying to identifying their strengths. It seems the consensus is that all mobile operators in the US market are using Option 3X, an EPC anchoring system. And, the consensus seems to be that US operators will need to move to 5GC once most traffic is coming over 5G Radio (“New Radio”). Vendor selection appears an open field, once again, as 5GC has 13 different microservices, each which could theoretically be parsed out to different vendors. Operators are saying, though, that while this multi-vendor selection may lead to savings on purchasing, it will increase integration spending, so these two have to be balanced out.
Mobile Edge Computing: The consensus is that a 50 mile radius (or others are saying 100 km) is considered the ‘edge,’ or the ‘low latency’ zone. We expect, however, that the data forwarding plane (‘user plane’) will be distributed to, say, 100 locations within a territory like the US market, while the control plane will be much more centralized (perhaps as centralized as it is currently, where it might be considered to be like 1/4th the number of locations).
CBRS. The consensus is that testing will be done by mid November 2018 and Initial Commercial Deployment by 1Q19, potentially spilling into 2Q19. PAL auctions are expected by attendees to be a 2019 event, with 2020 traffic running on PAL spectrum. Commscope represented the views from a SAS standpoint for this discussion.There were discussions about the C-Band (6 Ghz) potentially using the same type of Automatic Frequency Coordination system, but the consensus is that it is too early to declare that the path forward.
We attended Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCa) in Los Angeles, CA this week, as well as the AT&T Spark event in San Francisco. Since 5G is launching first the US, these two events became the public events where significant 5G-related announcements happened.
Additionally, discussions about spectrum in the US market were very active discussions. Some points we picked up on:
Yesterday, Ericsson and Juniper announced plans to partner to tackle 5G transport challenges together. Additionally, Ericsson announced a partnership with optical transport company, ECI. The companies said that Ericsson's Router 6000 product family will focus on fronthaul and backhaul and edge compute and will be complemented by Juniper MX, PTX and SRX Series portfolios providing edge, core and security capabilities. Additionally, in today's presentation to analysts, Ericsson showed that the overall transport capability from Ericsson will also include Optical Transport from both ECI Telecom and Ciena. The Ericsson Network Manager will be capable of managing not only Ericsson products, but also the three families of products from Juniper.
ECI will be used for Metro, and will be completely integrated with the Ericsson OSS platform. The company conceded that it is de-emphasizing its in-house metro optical product line and focusing on ECI. Ciena will be used for long-haul transport predominantly, mainly the Ciena 6500 product. Ericsson concedes that both ECI and Ciena products can move to other domains.
To enable automation for 5G, Ericsson can only guarantee that networks working with Ericsson and its partners can successfully be automated. This automation / partnership topic illustrates just how complex it will be to make 5G networks work properly.
Recall that Ericsson and Juniper had a close partnership that goes back many years. In fact, the Juniper router predecessor to the MX was used as the underlying hardware for Ericsson's very important GGSN/SGSN and later EPC capabilities. Ericsson eventually replaced the Juniper product for EPC with its own Router 6000. Subsequently, Ericsson announced a partnership with Cisco, which was more general in nature. That relationship did not result in much tangible progress, from what we have learned; and the relationship was done under previous management teams for both Cisco and Ericsson. Ericsson explained today in its analyst briefing that Cisco and Ericsson compete in several areas. So, this new Juniper relationship is important in that it re-kindles an old relationship and plays to both companies' strengths.
Nokia was bullish on its technology developments and cautious on telco capex. CEO Rajeev Suri described the telecom market as having tough market conditions and expects telco equipment market revenues down in 2018. He said the Swedish competitor pricing aggressively and that it will be difficult to keep share in China with 5G ramp. He said Nokia is executing on plan to grow non telco verticals – and it will take 3+ years before it is sizable enough to potentially offset telco challenges. He emphasized a key strength is its focus on cost reductions. He highlighted success in cable MSO market and that its FP4-based router will ship in a few days. Suri thinks 5G could roll out in China first, maybe tied with US. Nokia CEO's comments were quite similar about 5G rollout timing expectations compared to comments made at Huawei’s recent conference (2019 initial deployments; chipsets 2019; broadening deployments in 2020).
Some more details from Rajeev Suri's presentation:
Ericsson. We were surprised that the CEO of Nokia took the opportunity to take some digs at Ericsson. He said that Ericsson is pricing aggressively; it also shared some quantitative statistics about competitive take-outs of Ericsson installed base. He argued that it has broadest portfolio in industry (fixed, software are examples).
China. Two interesting comments about China – a) will be difficult to maintain share in China as 5G rolls out, b) China might be first to deploy 5G.
Emphasized that Amazon Web Services is making a presentation at this conference. Said its new FP4-based routers are more efficient than any competitor and will be so for at least the next year.
Other presenters made comments about 5G mainly. Here are some interesting comments:
Artificial Intelligence. The company has a lot of network automation technology that is it working on but would not share details about this technology. We guess Nokia is more open with its customers and that it'll make announcements at MWC '18 in Barcelona.
5G Radio. Beamforming is a key technology that will be highlighted in 5G. Also, the company's separation of Stage 1 and Stage 2 MIMO processing makes the bandwidth needs from baseband to array be much less than competitors. Additionally, the company explains that its expected systems will have dramatically higher efficiency than competitors - again, the company kept its secrets here under wraps. Late 2018 will see first 5G deployments, going into 2019.
IP/Optical. Basil Alwan, President IP/Optical division said the first FP4-based product went to production end of the last week. Major customers will take shipment before the end of this quarter. The company will ship its 57 Terabit router during 1Q18. SD-WAN will replace MPLS VPNs over time, perhaps at a rapid pace.
Service Provider presentations:
Amazon Web Services IoT. Satyam Yadav, GM of AWS IoT made a presentation at this meeting. The presentation focused on how Amazon's IoT software and its services would be used in a partnership with Nokia to deliver Amazon IoT services.
Sprint. Ron Marquardt, CTO. He is not sure how much customers might pay for lower-latency connections available from 5G. Now that the uncertainty of the T-Mobile US acquisition is beyond us, Sprint says it is rapidly focusing on spending to upgrade its network. Sprint also said it plans to deal with fewer vendors in the future.
Elisa. The Finnish operator presented data about its extraordinary data traffic growth and its per-subscriber data usage being far above competitors as well as other service providers in the world.
Ericsson and Cisco representatives provided an upbeat presentation about the corporate partnership, offered some customer success metrics and discussed some new initiatives. The teams held back from providing concrete measures of progress such as revenues. Our judgement is that since each is continuing to make joint offerings, the relationship is moving ahead.
Customer engagement progress was characterized at 100+ deals and 300+ engagements.
It is interesting to figure out what each of the two parties deliver to customers. The way the two companies characterize what each is good at and what each delivers to customers is quite similar to the way it was characterized at the previous year's MWC 2016 presentation - with one possible exception: Each of the spokespersons said that customers are using the Ericsson wireless packet core (Cisco also sells wireless packet core).
Roles and Responsibilities. Generally, the teams still see the roles and responsibilities split up as follows:
Given how strategic the NFV landscape is for the future of the telecom industry, we were interested in each company's participation in NFV Orchestration. The partners say the way they split up the orchestration between each other would typically be as follows: Cisco's NSO is used typically in managing the network and resources (Cisco claims it wins big here). Ericsson's transport-oriented NFV is typically used. And then Ericsson's orchestration system manages both Cisco's and Ericsson's lower level management systems.
Some wins discussed:
As we explained earlier, the partners discussed new three initiatives discussed for the future:
At the Ericsson Media and Analyst Briefing today, Ericsson's new CEO Borje Ekholm made his first MWC presentation, and then ceded the stage to well-known T-Mobile USA (TMUS) Chief Technology Officer, Neville Ray. We learned several things that were interesting: T-Mobile's plans for 5G rollout and 2G/3G shutdown, and Ericsson's high-level view on its strengths as 5G rolls out.
Neville Ray's comments conveyed a pragmatic and agile service provider's views: